Performance: Heading for the Summit or Closed Loop?

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I had the great pleasure of working with Alan Hinkes last week. It was the start of the 10th year of our Chief Customer Officer Forum and we were honoured to host Alan.

Who? What – you’ve never heard of one of the UK’s greatest sporting achievers?

Imagine a cyclist who was brave enough to win a race in which 1 out of 5 people who enter die. And then do it again, 14 times. Imagine a runner who risks dying for lack of oxygen every time they get near the tape. Imagine a footballer who has to put the ball in the net every game or die. Or a game of rugby in which, on a good day, only 5% of players are killed. Or a triathlete runner who has to be at the top of their game for 20 years to win the race.


Well, Alan did all that and more. Yet he is little known.

Alan is the only Brit who has climbed all the mountains over 8000m, all 14 of them. Some of them, like K2 and Anapurna, have still only been conquered by handfuls of people. ‘Easy’ ones like Everest have been climbed 5000+ times with only 5% being killed.

So you can’t argue that this is a man who knows a lot about extreme performance.

There are many things to take from his stories. Lessons on resilience, planning, risk management, decision making… I could go on. But I just wanted to bring up one thing.

What was his objective, each time?

You might imagine, it was to climb the mountain.

No. It was to go from base camp to base camp via the summit, without losing his life or any digits.

Makes you think, really. How often do we set an objective of reaching the summit (i.e. delivering the obvious goal of a project) when we should planning to “bring it home” (i.e. achieving the goal AND leaving the staff and the customer the better for it)?

Like Alan’s objective, it’s kind of obvious once you say it. But so few companies are able to do it.

Our research into “100 things you can learn from …” series, also 10 years old now, showed how the best companies ‘bring it home’:  the closed or common sense loop in businesses.

Simply put, they believe the customer and the front line staff know the problems and the solutions. Focus their change projects on addressing these things, so that the operations deliver a different experience. If you do this well the customer and front line staff see an improvement and see what they know is being addressed.

This is the virtuous circle many companies seek. Any breakages in the loop result in a zero result for everyone.

To do this requires simplification of strategy, total focus and stamina. It requires aligning metrics, reward and recognition. It requires perseverance to deliver immense performance. And these brilliant basics are not as sexy as the next new shiny thing.

So, like Alan, you may not be a household name. But everyone you meet will shake your hand and that will be enough, because you didn’t do it for the money. You did it because the challenge was there to be met.

Every time you go for a walk or a run, think about your objective: from base camp to base camp via the summit. And remind yourself to ‘bring it home’ in the way you manage change at work.

Published On: 9th Mar 2016 - Last modified: 14th Nov 2018
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